Last summer, weary from working at an Iraqi food cart all day, I placed myself on a bench at my train stop and opened my take-out box of mashi dolmas. Strangers walked past me, speaking and listening to one another.
I glanced towards the person the voice came from. I approached the old man who asked for me.
“Miss, I’m gonna have to ask a favor of you. My chair is stuck in this here grate. Could you push me to the corner?”
At least, I think that is what he said. His words were slurred. But I pulled the man’s chair out of the grate, and pushed.
“What’s your name, Miss?” asked the man.
“Angelica, like an angel. I like that name, Angelica.” He savored the word.
I let myself laugh at the irony. He laughed too.
The conversation we made was labored because of his speech, but effortless as two lonely, broken, blessed, human beings.
We had reached the corner I thought this man had spoken of. The strangers’ eyes were looming.
“I thought you said the corner. I don’t know when the train is coming, I have to go,” I said.
“But miss, I’m hungry and have to eat. I have to get to the McDonald’s.”
“Here, have my dolmas. You like dolmas.” I tried to set the box of food in his lap and move leave.
“Miss, I have a special diet, I gotta eat McDonalds,” he said.
His story became less convincing. He had a special diet that required McDonalds? Why couldn’t he push himself with his arms? “I have to go get my train. But have a nice evening.”
The train took about a walk to McDonald’s time to reach the stop. I boarded, sat, opened my take-out box. The savory aroma filled my nostrils, but my stomach churned. My eyes brimmed with tears. Maybe this man was taking advantage of my kindness, but even if he was, don’t I do that too? Don’t I do anything to get a second glance or a shared laugh? Human contact is precious. Oh, the lengths I go to feel accepted.
“God? Am I the shittiest person you have ever created?” I prayed.
And in the Divine’s kindness and benevolence, I felt my heart reply.
“Does a parent reprimand their child for falling, or bless them for walking?” I looked out the window of the train at the city lights; they glowed over the people of Portland.


Happy I’m human

I’m glad I’m not a pelican. Really glad. I watched a documentary on OPB about them the other day and decided that I am, indeed, ecstatic that I’m not a pelican.

Don’t get me wrong, pelicans are completely fascinating; in some ways being a pelican would be wondrous. First, they have bulbous pouches to stow snacks in for short periods of time, which is pretty sweet. Who doesn’t need extra storage for an emergency attack of the munchies?

Also, pelicans open and close their bills reallyreallyreally fast to make their pouches sway to and fro to entice their prospective mate. If only it were that simple to hook a hottie! Half the time opening and closing my mouth drives the gentlemen away.

But ultimately, the negatives outweigh the oh so tantalizing positives. First, remember how unfortunate and uncomfortable most of us were in the looks department when it came to growing up?

ugly baby pelicans
Turns out we had it easy. At least we had clothes to hide our molting skin.

And who hasn’t at one point or another felt smothered by their parents? Baby pelican food is the regurgitated sustenance of  their mommy and daddy pelicans. Talk about smothered.

Most tragically, most pelicans have two babies at a time, and only one usually survives. When resources are low, the baby pelican will hoard food, bullying their twin sister or brother into submission, ultimately killing them.

Just like the pelicans, our environment often determines the way we treat our brothers and sisters. Us humans are all products of forces beyond our control, little specs floating around infinite cosmic confusion. Just like the pelicans,the way we conduct ourselves is largely determined by our environment and our chemical make up

I’m a skeptic when it comes to human agency. But for some strange reason I have come to hope in positive change. It seems  that when we cultivate that sweet inner stillness, that us tiny, inconsequential beings somehow have some say  in things. When  we cultivate the most incredible aspects of the human experience in our own lives, like love and joy and contentment just to name a few,  humans can truly do incredible things.

Call me an idealist, but I think we have more say than the pelican.

And even if we don’t, at least we have opposable thumbs.